Calls to allow maternity cover for MPs “divert attention” from the needs of other women, a Tory MP has said.
Kemi Badenoch – who is currently pregnant – said MPs who are mothers are treated well, adding: “We should not present ourselves as victims.”
It comes after Labour MP Stella Creasy said women are forced to choose between being an MP and a mum because of Parliament’s rules.
MPs do not automatically get paid cover if they take parental leave.
In January, MPs backed a year-long trial to allow MPs who were about to give birth or had recently become a parent to nominate another MP to vote on their behalf in the Commons.
But there is no official maternity cover available for their other duties.
However, MPs continue to be paid their full annual salary of £79,468 throughout their parental leave.
Walthamstow MP Ms Creasy, who is also pregnant, argued that without paid cover it would be “impossible” for her to fulfil her responsibilities to constituents once her baby is born.
When she approached Ipsa – the body which regulates MPs’ pay – about the issue, she said they told her “they don’t recognise that MPs go on maternity leave”.
Not a ‘bad deal’
Writing in the Times, Mrs Badenoch said Ms Creasy’s intervention was “hugely disappointing” and was “diverting attention away from those we should be helping”.
The MP for Saffron Walden – who is six months pregnant and had two children before becoming an MP – said she had “greater autonomy” while pregnant in her current role than in her previous careers.
“I would find it hard to claim to a constituent on the minimum wage that I have a bad deal,” she added.
Maternity rights for workers in the UK
Women are entitled to up to 52 weeks’ maternity leave.
They must take at least two weeks’ leave after the baby is born (or four weeks if they work in a factory).
They are eligible to be paid for six weeks at 90% of their average weekly earnings and 33 weeks at £149 per week or 90% of their average weekly earnings (if lower).
Fathers can take two weeks’ statutory paternity leave at £149 a week.
Ms Badenoch argued it was “unrealistic” to have job shares or parental cover for MPs, as the replacement would not be able to vote on issues in parliament.
While she said she was “horrified” to hear about MPs working in the final stages of a difficult pregnancy or just after giving birth, she said there was “absolutely no compulsion to do this” and MPs should resist these “unreasonable pressures”.
She added that all MPs receive a budget of £150,000 for staffing costs and said this could be used to cover any period of absence by an MP.
Prime Minister Theresa May has urged Ipsa to “look very closely” at what further support could be provided, adding there was “much more to do” to make Westminster more family friendly.
Conservative leadership candidate Jeremy Hunt was among those to offer his support to Ms Creasy and called on Ipsa to “do the right thing”.
Lib Dem leadership hopeful Jo Swinson said Parliament should be “setting the standard” on maternity rights.
“If we want to take a lead on tackling this discrimination in the workplaces right across the country, we also need to get our own house in order,” the party’s deputy leader said.
Ipsa said it offered additional funding for MPs to cover absences. For this to be provided, it asks for an explanation of how the money would be spent.
The regulator said it supported allowing parental cover for MPs but that the change would need to be decided by Parliament.
“Ipsa would work closely with Parliament on any changes they wish to introduce and on providing the funding to support this,” a spokeswoman added.
The debate over Parliament’s rules was reignited when Labour MP Tulip Siddiq delayed a Caesarean section to attend a vote on Theresa May’s Brexit deal.
In 2017, former Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman called for MPs to be given six months’ maternity leave.